No matter your hair type or preferred hairstyle, dry and brittle hair can affect us all. While some people are genetically inclined towards dry hair and scalps, others may find themselves subject to environmental factors or lifestyle problems that disrupt this natural balance.
Common sense suggests a link between dryness and hair loss, but is that connection confirmed by science and leading dermatologists? The cause-and-effect nature of dry hair and thinning hair may not be so clear once we look at the data and identify other culprits.
The silver lining here is that dry hair can be remedied with a hair care plan and simple fixes, many of which can be done at home.
Let’s get the facts about dry hair, how it impacts hair health, and how to prevent or reverse the damage of dehydration.
Ask any dermatologist, trichologist, or hair restoration expert, and they’ll outline the dangers of chronically dry hair. Like all bodily systems, skin and hair must retain a certain degree of moisture to function; the absence of that moisture can lead to dysfunction sooner or later.
Not only does dry hair feel and look brittle and dull, but it also causes structural damage to the root of the follicle unit, from which strands of hair grow. The tissue surrounding each follicle unit comprises fats and proteins, along with natural oils and enzymes that regulate the life and growth cycles of healthy hair on the scalp.
Water is a key component for nutrient transfer and delivery throughout the body, allowing hair to receive all the necessary building blocks to grow long and strong. As the second-fastest growing organ in the body, hair highly depends on hydration to thrive.
Chronic dehydration will rapidly break down those key functions, including circulation, nutrient delivery, and oxygenation. With these factors at play, it’s no surprise that when hair and scalp skin remain dry for too long, hair health begins to decline visually and structurally.
Complete rehydration is essential to prevent dryness and related issues, which demands a carefully planned approach and ongoing supervision. Taking control of the situation demands we recognize the early signs of dehydration, the causes of dryness, and precise protocols to return oil production and moisture levels over time.
Before we map out the solution to dry hair, we must identify the root cause. While several sources of dryness need to be addressed, most are within our control. Here are the four reasons hair becomes chronically dry and how they impact healthy hair.
Like all aspects of our physiology, there is a strong genetic component to hair dryness and how we respond to certain stimuli. Some hair types are simply more resilient to fluctuations in moisture and are better at regulating the ups and downs of hydration and oil production.
Unfortunately, some people start with the deck stacked against them in hair genetics, with naturally dry or oily conditions that result in poor hair health and quality. These patients must be vigilant about monitoring the status of their hair throughout seasonal changes and take care to manage their environment, supplementation, and additional treatments if needed.
Keep in mind that in addition to dryness, androgenetic alopecia is largely genetic and remains the core cause of balding for men. Female pattern hair loss is less impacted by genes and tends to result more from external conditions and hormonal changes (such as thyroid conditions like hyperthyroidism, menopause, and other health conditions).
We exist in a state of balance with the world around us, and the health of our environment reflects the well-being of our hair and scalp.
It’s not just where you are on earth that impacts hair hydration and health, but also the time of year and other unseen properties in things like air, water, hair care products, and the food supply.
The most immediate factor impacting dry hair is atmospheric quality and humidity, which can vary widely depending on your geographic location. Extra precautions must be taken for those living in a dry desert climate to ensure hair stays balanced and moisturized throughout the year, especially when temperatures drop in winter.
Even in more humid environments, changes in atmospheric pressure and temperatures can change how our hair looks and feels from one season to the next. During winter, hair is more likely to dehydrate and suffer from frizz, static, and other factors that zap away moisture and nutrients.
Air and water quality also come into play here, as each region has its own pros and cons for hair health. Mineral-dense “hard water” can have a drying effect, while areas with heavier air pollution can work against our efforts to achieve balanced hair hydration.
There’s no need to worry about these elements beyond our control, as you can adopt several practices to improve air and water quality in the home and turn the tables in your favor.
Hydration starts from the inside out, with what we eat and drink daily. No matter how much you wash and moisturize hair, these efforts will fall short if your approach to hydration excludes diet, water intake, and other aspects of healthy living.
Don’t forget that ⅔ of the human body is made up of water, including hair and skin. Drinking fresh water is a good start, but only one part of the puzzle.
Complete hydration also requires electrolyte intake, including magnesium, potassium, clean salts, and enzymes found in fruits and vegetables.
Unhealthy habits like drinking alcohol, smoking, and recreational drug use can also worsen dehydration, especially with frequent use. Addressing these lifestyle issues will keep you hydrated inside and out and may help to reverse the worst symptoms of dryness and brittle hair.
A great deal of hair dryness is done on our own accord, as the unintentional consequences of aggressive styling products and blow-drying. Mini appliances like hair dryers, straighteners (flat irons), and curling irons work by blasting hair strands with high temperatures or pressure to achieve a desired look. Still, the results can backfire by damaging hair over the long run.
Combined with the build-up of harsh hair products like shampoos, conditioners, hair sprays, chemical treatments, and dyes, frequent high-heat treatments from blow dryers and other hot tools can do more harm than good, and the results may be difficult to reverse.
While the occasional drying treatment will not cause permanent problems, it may be best to limit the use of such implements and opt for natural drying and no-heat styling methods.
Dry hair on its own can lead to issues, but there’s a more insidious cause for hair loss related to oil production and regulation.
Although the scalp does a good job at maintaining the ideal level of natural oils for hair growth, manipulating these oils can throw regulation out of whack and result in the overproduction of oils.
This is why many hair experts see patients suffering a pendulum effect as they address hair dryness. Due to overwashing and chemical products, the scalp becomes stripped of natural moisture and fails to fulfill its natural role.
Concerned about dry hair and the possibility of hair loss? Be aware of these signs to catch the problem before it compounds.
You will likely feel the symptoms of dehydrated hair before they show in the mirror. Irritated scalp skin and itchy hair is the first sign that something is off and should serve as your first indicator to investigate.
If you find yourself scratching or itching more often, there may be chronic dryness to deal with.
Minor dandruff here and there is normal, but larger, more frequent flakes along the hairline and across the scalp should be cause for alarm. This means that scalp skin is insufficiently hydrated and breaking down faster than it can rebuild itself.
Anti-flake shampoos may help alleviate symptoms, but a complete hydration plan is often needed.
When hair starts to feel brittle, frizzy, or delicate, it’s a sure sign that dryness has set in. Be sure to monitor the feel of your hair strands and note changes that occur rapidly or unexpectedly.
Winter is the split-end season, but that doesn’t mean the problem should be ignored. Communicate with your stylist to keep track of split ends or other forms of breakage. Maintaining a grooming routine will help stop breakage and excess hair shedding from further damaging hair follicles, along with other protocols.
Thinning, diminishing hair is a red flag that calls for an immediate response. Keep an eye out for follicles that appear weaker, smaller, or less robust than usual. Flat, dull, and lifeless hair can be revived with the right approach and by leaving certain bad habits behind.
Dryness may not be the sole cause of hair loss. However, it’s largely within our sphere of control. Take these tips to heart and be acutely aware of signs during harsh winters.
For a professional approach to hair restoration from leaders in the field, reach out to Jae Pak, MD, and let’s get you on the right track.
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